When I was asked to write this blog I was not really sure where to start but I have decided to keep it plain and simple and will just try to pass on some lessons I have learnt as I continue my journey towards the ultimate goal of becoming a mental health nurse. As I reflect on placements over the last 2 years I realise that I have come a long way from starting on my first placement to where I am today but that doesn’t meant there are not times when I feel that I have not progressed. It is at such moments that I have to remind myself all placements are different and it is up to us to make the most of all opportunities afforded to us. I guess that what I am trying to say is that it is up to ourselves as students to take responsibility for our own learning yet at the same time call upon all the resources, whether that be fellow professionals, patients or families, around us to maximise learning.
I will not identify my placements by name but the first placement I attended was in an acute setting and I will not deny that I found it very difficult as the pace of work for the staff was so rapid and I could hardly keep up with all that I needed to take in. As a first year on placement, however, it is important to remember that the experience is observational and I feel that one thing I definitely didn’t do was ask questions. I expect if you ask other students, they too will emphasise the importance of being inquisitive and asking questions.
Now as I attend my first third year placement I realise more than ever that I have not always done this and it has been commented on that it is still a failing of mine. It should not be forgotten that there are many professionals other than nurses and one thing that I have definitely learnt is to use the expertise of all healthcare staff to increase learning and approach situations from different perspectives . Patients, carers and families also provide excellent learning opportunities and sometimes we can gain so much from patients whilst playing pool rather than a formal conversation- not suggesting that all placement is spent playing pool or table tennis but such activities can be beneficial not only to the student but also to the patient . I am very much of the opinion that as a student we are in such a privileged position and time spent out of the office cannot be undervalued.
I think placements are very much about having confidence in our ability but we should not be afraid to ask for help if we are struggling. An example of this, for me, is my lack of confidence in administering depot injections but with the support of my mentors/ practice assessors I have overcome this – even if it was on the last day of placements! Pebblepad provides a means of recording all that we have achieved but it should not be used as the only measure of success of a placement. In my opinion, we may at times be too focused on ticking off outcomes and although it is essential to keep on top of outstanding objectives we should not allow Pebblepad to be the main influence on our learning. When I started my final placement of first year I never thought that I would achieve all I needed to do but it was as a result of discussion between myself and mentor that I successfully met all my outcomes by identifying ways I could expand upon learning using spoke opportunities. At the moment such opportunities may be limited by Covid restrictions but a determined student will find ways to achieve what they need to and should not give up on their goals. Sometimes, also, it is about pushing yourself forward in placement, especially in 2nd and 3rd year, and again this is something I really have to work on.
I hope these words don’t appear too negative but it is important that we share experiences as then we might not feel alone if things don’t seem to be going as we think they should. I have had placements in inpatient settings and also in a nursing home and it was the latter which particularly improved my confidence. I think this placement was extremely beneficial in providing experience with both mental health and physical issues and we should not, as mental health nursing students, forget the physical wellbeing of our patients.
Going forward, I am undecided as to what area of practice I wish to work in but being on placement allows you to gain an insight into different care settings. We should try not to attend placement with preconceived ideas of what the work will be like in that setting and should use placements not only as valuable learning but as a means of opening our mind to opportunities which might not have been considered or as a means to dismiss area which we previously thought we would want to work in. On a more administrative note, especially to those who have not yet been on placement, it is always a good idea to try and visit a placement before the start. If this is not possible, a telephone call to introduce yourself and address any concerns is, in my mind, essential as a polite and courteous start to placement.
So there is a brief resume from me regarding placement. I think the main message that I am trying to convey is that as a nursing student we are responsible for our own learning but we should look to the wealth of experience around us to support us in our journey to becoming qualified nurses. We should not be afraid to ask questions and most importantly must always seek advice and help if we feel that there are obstacles in our way.
Good luck to everyone and remember you are never alone.